Santa’s procurement challenge


Santa’s procurement challenge

By Mark Hubbard |

Deep under the North Pole, the final effort is underway, making sure that the wrapping lines are moving at full power and the dispatch team is ready to go. As ever, the elves in the Procurement team (this really is e-procurement) are having a moment to reflect on the challenges of getting this far.

This year, the new forecasting software, powered by prediction markets, with machine learning and AI (Actually Incredible) capabilities was used in anger for the first time, which has allowed a significantly closer estimate to be made of the years most popular gifts. The software vendor is still in the broom cupboard, refusing to come out, but it’s all gone really well.

Bigger challenges came in the years largest trend – a whole scale move to sustainability. The packaging team have had the hardest time, moving away from the plastic infused wrapping paper of previous years and moving to easily recyclable or reusable brown paper. There’s a number of challenges being worked out still. The skill needed for taping parcels closed is significantly higher, as the tape sticks to the paper much more easily and causes tearing and, frankly, ugly wrapping. This is right up there on the continuous improvement register.

The effect of this has had an unintended consequence: less gifts, but better ones that will last and bring joy over time.

Although the brown paper caused the packing team some challenges, the new corporate objective of ‘no single use’ has had repercussions everywhere. Making sure that gift choices survive beyond the first thrilling two minutes after the wrapping goes means ensuring a far deeper connection with the gift. Things that resonate over time, that survive through build quality, that bring long term delight. The effect of this has had an unintended consequence: less gifts, but better ones that will last and bring joy over time. The older elves look knowingly at one another, remembering earlier times of lower consumption and gifts which were important for the recipients.

Material choices were another spin out of the ‘no single use’ objective. More wood, less plastic. Upcycled items becoming acceptable. Awareness of the origin of some key materials. Although there is considerable debate about what is and isn’t sustainable, at least the discussion is happening. The Single Use Plastic debate in particular is driving a range of choices, removing items and making some gifts broadly unacceptable.

Of course, transport and logistics are a major area in the Santa Procurement Group. Sustainability is a recurring theme here, with a move to a lighter sleigh, and better mpg (miles per gallop) being considered. Outside speculation on the projected speed of the sleigh causing a sonic boom is, of course, inaccurate, and misses the necessary trans dimensional element of the delivery route. However, responsible waste disposal is a subject that does follow the reindeer around. A partnership with a series of rose gardens is being developed, although that won’t be in place until next year.

There’s a thought in the air that this seems different than other efforts towards sustainability in the past. The discussions are more intense, the depth of feeling higher, and there is a belief that the sustainability movement will, indeed sustain.

Let’s see what next year brings.

Season’s Greetings from all at Future Purchasing.

Further reading

Blog post: Sustainability and the supply chain

About Mark Hubbard


30+ years experience in procurement and supplier management, in line and consulting roles
Previous employment: Positive Purchasing Ltd, SITA,
QP Group, BMW, SWWS, Rover
Education: BSc in Engineering Metallurgy, MBA University of Plymouth
CIPS: Current Member